“Pick travel companies and stick with them. Join their programs and build up loyalty. You will be rewarded.”
Chuck was pretty savvy with his gleaming cuff links and silky Windsor knots. Sitting in upgraded First Class through no effort of my own, I decided to pay attention. Within a matter of weeks, I had pledged my travel loyalty to one airline, two car rental companies, and three hotel chains.
Over the years, Chuck’s wisdom paid off. With over a decade of moderately extensive business travel, I racked up points and status and upgrades and perks. Flight attendants regularly offered me warm washcloths and free booze, I got rooms with jacuzzi tubs, and rental cars were always waiting for me to simply show up and drive away. All because I listened to Chuck.
Eleven years ago today, I added a cruise line to my list of travel favorites. I was heading home from a Trip of a Lifetime my mom and I took to celebrate our milestone birthdays (my 40th and her 60th). Traveling alone together for the first time in decades, Mom and I had a blast and a half cruising around the Mediterranean. Princess Cruises treated us wonderfully, made us feel at home, and helped us discover a part of the world that we had only dreamed about. I was grateful for such a perfect travel experience with my mom and decided to reward Princess with my loyalty.
14 cruises later, I have only broken my vow to Princess twice. Because, well, ports and calendars. As Chuck promised, my loyalty has indeed reaped rewards. As of a couple of days ago, I finally reached the pinnacle of Princess Customer Loyalty. Yes, that’s right folks, I am officially Elite. WHOO HOO! CUE FANFARE! OR AT LEAST THE THEME SONG TO “THE LOVE BOAT”!
|"...life's sweetest reward..."|
Behold the trinket that took
11 years and 12 cruises to earn
What’s the big deal about being an Elite Princess? Well, in addition to the free internet and special lounges I had access to before, I now get things like: a discount in the ship’s stores; faster lines for getting off the ship; free shoe polishing (uhhh...); fancier shampoo; some free food and booze; and…my ultimate goal and motivating force to achieve this apex...free laundry service!
Yes! Free laundry! On a cruise ship! Never again will I have to spend an At Sea Day jockeying for a washing machine in a tiny, cramped, steamy, crowded laundromat while I should be relaxing at the pool with an ice cream cone. Never again will I have to babysit the washer to make sure I am there to transfer my wet clothes to a dryer instead of finding them in an unceremonious heap on top of a machine. Never again will I have to spread dampish clothes throughout our cabin because the dryers don’t really dry.
Now, because I was loyal and committed and worked the system just a tiny bit (more on that in a minute), Princess has bestowed upon me “Complimentary Laundry and Professional Cleaning Services” in which “Upon request, your stateroom steward will organize your laundry to be cleaned.” YAAAAAAAY!!
I have to admit, I’m a little curious about the “organizing” part. I am assuming that wording was chosen so that I don’t get the impression that my stateroom steward himself is going to babysit my laundry and tend the machines for me. But I also hope it doesn’t mean that he plans to separate my lights, darks, and unmentionables. Because that level of service creeps me out, Elite or not.
So how does one become Elite and ditch the laundromat? Simple. I had to either sail with Princess 150 days or take 15 Princess cruises, whichever came first. With only 80 cruising days to my name, the number of cruises was my ticket to Laundry Freedom. 15 cruises in 11 years seems sorta aggressive. Which it was. Except that we worked the system a little and actually only took 12 Princess cruises. Heh heh heh.
You see, Woodhaven is within driving distance of the only place in the world where you can take a 1-day cruise on Princess Cruises (the next closest is a 2-day cruise in Australia).
Twice a year, at the beginning and end of the Alaska cruising season, Princess needs to reposition a ship between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. And if a ship is moving, it might as well have passengers. Paying passengers. Paying, drinking, eating, shopping passengers.
There are quite a few Washingtonians and Canadians who have discovered this little mini-vacay-on-the-sea. We all get on, lounge at the pool, have dinner, enjoy a few drinks, attend a show or two, dance in a nightclub or play the slots, go to sleep, have breakfast, and get off the ship. Twenty hours max. When you get the cheapest room available, it’s less than dinner and a hotel room for one night in Seattle. And that includes parking and the 4-hour Amtrak bus back to the port you started at. For a special night out, it’s a pretty rockin’ bargain.
|Lido Deck -- 3 hours before we set sail. There's no|
time to waste on a 1-day cruise.
So that was one trick to my fast-track to Elite status – we took three 1-day cruises. But there are a few other sly maneuvers we learned along the way…mostly by eavesdropping on super-turbo cruisers.
- If you stay in a suite, your cruise counts as two cruises instead of one.
- If you stay in a room by yourself, your cruise counts as two cruises instead of one.
- If you own 100+ shares of stock in the mega company that owns just about all of the cruise lines in the world, you get a minimum of $50 free to use while you are onboard (this increases up to $250 for longer cruises. Cha ching!)
- If you bring your own wine onboard (a limit of one bottle per passenger), you can pay a $15 corkage fee and have a much better bottle of wine for much less than what the cruise line offers
Yes, we did all of those things. Some more than once.
The Suite Life
Staying in a suite was quite fun. We hibernated in our cabin as much as possible to soak it all in since the decadence was so short-lived.
The room was filled with marble floors and marble counter tops. The bathroom had a full tub AND a shower and had three doors, one of which was next to the walk-in closet. There were two rooms, each with a sliding glass door to the large deck…which featured two loungers AND a table and four chairs.
We were greeted with glasses of champagne and a fruit bowl. A free mini-bar was stocked. Food arrived regularly – chocolate-covered strawberries, hors oeuvres, more fruit. Another knock on the door was our room steward delivering a new orchid plant because apparently the one that was already on a counter next to the phone wasn’t big enough.
We had access to a special dining area where we arrived at our leisure and were instantly seated – no waiting or need for reservations. We also had complimentary use of a thermal spa which was really just a big steamy room with some ceramic lounge chairs that retained a delicious amount of heat for a sore back. For free it was awesome but not worth paying extra for. I did feel all fancy, though, when all I had to do was flash my suite cruise card and was instantly whisked into sauna heaven.
I was so bummed this luxurious and truly elite lifestyle was ours for only 20 hours.
|Taken from the entry door. Marble bathroom to right,|
mini-bar across from Rob, bedroom, dresser,
desk, walk-in closet, jacuzzi tub, shower
behind mini-bar. Inadequate orchid out
of screen shot to the left.
Separate but together
For our final cruise in the Elite Pursuit, Rob and I booked separate rooms. Both rooms were super cheap interior cabins at the back of the ship, although Rob’s was better because mine came with fold-down bunks attached to the walls. So we slept in Rob’s slightly less claustrophobic cabin. We…us…two people who have white hair and have been married almost 29 years. Nevertheless, I felt like a total hussy going in and out of Rob’s cabin that was only registered in his name.
The next morning I threw on a baseball hat and my coat to trot back up to my cabin to grab my final bill. I’m pretty certain the room stewards in the hallway were smirking at my Morning After Walk of Shame. Worse, I threw back covers on my cabin’s bed, tossed a towel on the bathroom floor, and ran some water in the sink all to make it look like I had actually used my room. Me, a liberated, adult, 51-year-old woman who nonetheless didn’t want it to look like I was sleeping around…with my HUSBAND…on this one-night-pleasure cruise.
Good Lord, my head is a trip sometimes.
Although the double credit for the cruise and the $100 stock benefit ($50 for each cabin) were pretty sweet, this solo-cabin trick was waaaaay too much work trying to protect my nobody-really-cares-but-me reputation. All in the name of Free Laundry.
|Together in Seattle...as it should be.|
I was honestly expecting some sort of acknowledgement from the fine Princess People of my Elite achievement at the end of our 20-hour cruise a few days ago. In the past I’ve gotten a little pin and letter of congratulations with my final bill. But all I had was a bill for $18.36 for a puffy vest I bought on clearance in the used-to-be-Alaska-souvenirs-but-now-its-all-Hawaiian gift shop.
Mopey, I stopped at the front desk to ask if they had any Elite pins even though I read some small print that I am now supposed to wait until my next cruise to get it. The nice Reception guy seemed grateful for a request that didn’t involve a computer.
Later we joined a hungover yet lively group of six Canadians at their table for breakfast. One of the sleepier guys had just earned his Elite status, too. Without prompting, we each sang out what we were most excited about.
Me: “FREE LAUNDRY!” Simultaneously him: “FREE MINI-BAR!”
Cheers to that!